Gorillas, Balloons and Wavy Tube Men. Oh My!

Our industry does a lot with gimmicks. You’d be hard pressed to drive through an auto mall or other area dense with dealerships and not see balloons, giant inflatable gorillas or wavy tube men. On nice days, we attempt to lure shoppers in with hot dogs and sodas. We incentivize test drives. We offer televisions, iPads and Playstations with purchase. There’s always a gimmick just waiting to be unleashed on our customers. But do any of these really attract (and keep) business? Sure, they might get someone’s attention. However, I highly doubt someone has ever decided to buy a car simply because they saw a gorilla on your roof.


We’re faced today with increasing competition. No longer are you simply competing with the dealerships in your PMA. Shoppers are able to buy cars online, through vending machines and, soon, straight from a GM pool of 30,000 cars. The ability to REALLY attract business lies not in the gimmicks you can throw in front of your dealership, hoping to attract customers, but in creating a place that people want to buy -- and leveraging that in your marketing.


In-market consumers conduct a lot of research before you may even be aware they are in-market. Not only are they researching vehicles, but they are also researching where they want to buy them. Before you know that customer actually exists, they may have already written you off. How many dealership websites are they visiting? And, what, if anything, is yours telling them? Is it the same old stuff that’s on every dealers’ website? Are your ads filled with promises of loss leaders that consumers know aren’t attainable? What makes you any different from any other dealership?


Who YOU are as a dealership is the only thing that truly differentiates you from other dealerships. Grab your employees, managers and staff and ask them what THEY think is unique about your dealership. Then do the same thing with your customers – whether they are new or long-time customers. By doing this, you may be able to identify some unique selling propositions that your dealership offers. At the very least, you’ll discover whether you truly have any or not. If your staff as a whole cannot tell you why your dealership is different, then how can you expect your customers to feel that you are?


Once you have surveyed your customers and employees, take these unique items and ask yourself if there is anyway that you can add to it. Be careful though. Don’t add anything that you cannot deliver on, or you’ll find out very quickly that you are putting out more fires than you had to begin with. Also, stay away from generic value propositions. “Low prices,” “Huge Selection,” and “Bad Credit is OK,” are NOT unique. Not to say you can’t use these as part of your overall campaigns. But, work to find things that truly differentiate you. Do you have a high employee retention rate? That’s great! Telling a customer that their salesperson, service advisor or your management team will be there for them in the future is absolutely a valuable trait. Do you offer free car washes? Oil changes? What about loaners or concierge services?


Once you have a concrete list of unique value propositions that are reasonable, and that you are able to deliver on consistently, call an all hands on deck meeting with your staff. Review these items with them and explain why it’s important that these value propositions be delivered 100 percent of the time. Make sure that you have buy in from everyone. Don’t be afraid to field questions and listen to challenges that your staff may have for you.


Once this process is complete, it does absolutely no good to keep it to yourself. These value propositions should be integrated into all of your marketing, communications and forward-facing assets including your website, social media profiles and any advertising that you do. You may only get one chance to convince a customer why they should choose you. So, make sure that anyone that inspects your dealerships and considers doing business with you sees your pledge to them.


Steer clear of gimmicks that are not going to sell any additional cars, and switch focus to who you are as an organization. Then, leverage that to attract new customers. You could well find that people will choose you more often. And that you build trust with your customers. And that, my friends, is the beginning of a true customer relationship.

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Comment by Melissa Terzi on February 17, 2016 at 10:50am

Great points made here Paul.  Since I sell many of these "gimmicks" to auto dealers, I have to say that you are right on.   The incentive cannot do the job for the dealer.  All our gifts can do  is to help grab the consumer's attention, and add to the decision to respond by enticing them to either call, click, or come in.   But once they do that - our job ends, and the real success comes from the dealer's ability to stand out from the competition.  By the way, we sell quality gift cards, and really high value giveaways - so we don't really qualify as a "gimmick" but I get what you mean.  There is more to it then a pretty gorilla.  ;-)  

Comment by steven chessin on February 11, 2016 at 4:20pm

Paul -  Corporate auto dealers are anti-differentiation. Cookie-cutter and proud of it. I only work with independents with reputations for old-fashioned customer care and integrity.          

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